In a panel discussion held on Thursday, five International Relations experts from the University of Guyana and the University of the West Indies weighed in on UNASUR and what it could mean not only for South America but for CARICOM as well.
Professorial Fellow at the Institute of International Relations (IIR) at UWI, Professor Norman Girvan was one of the panelists.
“By a fortunate accident of history and geography, two CARICOM nations are strategically placed on the South American mainland and are strategically placed to participate in the consolidation of South American integration that seeks to chart a course which is independent of the hemispheric hegemony – the United States.
“UNASUR is a project to consolidate a single economic space and an identity, regionally and globally, for the nations of South America which is independent of Washington. It is not anti-Washington instead it is pro-South American. The system of cooperation and integration embraces a wide area – infrastructure, energy, transport, communications, defense, health and most recently defense of democracy. “
According to Professor Girvan, “UNASUR is an extremely robust organization and although there may be naysayers, especially in the United States and Europe who area saying that ‘those Latins are at it again.’”
“It’s just another talk shop,” those are just historical prejudices, ignorance of the facts and an underestimation of the historical current towards the assertion of a global role of South American countries.”
He went on to say that “Guyana and Suriname happen to be pivotally located but in order for them to participate fully and to act as a lever by which the interests of small island developing states of the Caribbean Community. It’s important for certain strategic changes to be adumbrated correctly.”
Professor Girvan said that there were a number of existential threats to CARICOM countries and the region – systemic challenges to the viability of CARICOM states as viable functioning socio-economic, ecological, political system.
He pointed out that these threats are due to the intersection of challenges from a number of sources and types – climatic, economic, political and social. He outlined those threats.
Climatically, there is the threat of global warming to small island, coastal and low lying states which bring part and parcel, hurricanes, floods and other disasters battering the countries.
Then there is the economic weakness of Caribbean states which is a direct consequence of globalization especially among agricultural exporting countries.
The region is also home to some of the most heavily indebted countries of the world; countries that are most vulnerable to the impact of the global financial and economic crisis.
These countries are heavily dependent on remittances and in some cases, remittances and tourism. Contraction of economies in Latin America and the Caribbean is greater in the Caribbean and recovery is less marked and much slower as a result of their reliance on tourism, remittances and other pre-existing weaknesses.
Another challenge to the countries of the region that Professor Girvan outlined was that of the impact of transnational crime. Murders, measured per 100,000 inhabitants saw Jamaica at 55, Trinidad in the low 50s and Guyana in the 30s while to put the figures in context, Canada and Singapore have rates of 1 and 2 per 100,000.
The reason posited by Professor Girvan for such statistics is that “we (the Caribbean) are neither major producers nor consumers of narcotics or illicit arms, we just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – collateral damage so to speak. We just happen to sit on the roads between the producers and the consumers.”
He went on to note that the states are also too small and ill-equipped to cope with and control the illegal flow of narcotics and arms.
This confluence of a number of threats from different sources combining like a perfect storm, according to Professor Girvan produces challenges with which the systems of governance are ill-equipped to cope.
He said, “The challenges themselves create the imperative for regional collaboration and impel a regional response but the institutions of regional government are weak under-resourced and ill equipped. There is a proliferation of meetings, councils and various institutions of regional cooperation but they all rely on voluntary action by member states.”
According to Professor Girvan the crux of the matter is that the Caribbean states are all wedded to the idea of national sovereignty as individual nations a holdover from their colonial heritage. He said that the states “cling to the illusion of national sovereignty in spite of the need for collective regional sovereignty in certain critical areas.”
UNASUR’s role in all of this was outlined by Professor in a number of changes that the organization could lobby for.
The first was climate change so far as it was an existential threat to the countries of the community. He noted that this was an agenda item of UNASUR but questioned Why CARICOM as represented by Guyana and Suriname could not secure a commitment from UNASUR to supporting binding mandatory cuts in Green House Gas emissions sufficient to keep the average rise in global temp below 1.5 degrees centigrade – the level above which there will be catastrophic repercussions.
His second charge was that the countries should be trying to secure funding from the global community and especially from those countries which are responsible for the majority of carbon emissions; specifically funding for disaster mitigation and disaster adaptation.
He pointed out that these disasters are not only occurring but are unavoidable for some time into the future. He emphasized that these funds should be sought not on the basis that “we are begging or that this is charity but our countries are entitled to such funding as compensation for damage for which we are not responsible.
“We are disproportionately under-emitting but disproportionately over-suffering the consequences of global carbon emissions.”
Professor Girvan also spoke on the need for the organization to address the transnational crime especially by calling on the US and Europe to see a reduction in the demand for narcotics since they are the major consumers and the backbone of the illicit drug trade.
He presented an option where the South American countries efforts to control the supply of drugs is contingent on a equal effort by these countries to control the demand for drugs and the flow of illegal arms and ammunition.
His other points surrounded suggestions for a plan to create a South American alternative to the IMF and the World Bank for distressed countries in the region thereby reducing their dependence on these agencies as well as prioritizing energy and food security in the programs of UNASUR.
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